THE Green Party of Hancock County has taken to cleaning up Maine's politics like a scrubber to a smokestack. Seven months old and boasting a mailing list of 500, the party is challenging a proposal for a coal-fired power plant on the banks of the Penobscot River in Bucksport. Party members say they hope their efforts will lay the foundation for future Green political and economic reforms in Maine.
``We need a fundamental change in the political process,''says Nancy Allen, a Hancock County Green. ``That change has got to come from the grass roots.''
Responding to a bid from Central Maine Power, Applied Energy Services (AES) of Virginia filed a proposal with the town of Bucksport last February to build a 180-megawatt coal-fired cogeneration power plant. AES says the plant would apply the most advanced clean-coal technologies.
Bucksport's planning board has held hearings and will either grant or deny AES the required shoreline zoning permit for the plant on Oct. 19. The Greens say the proposed plant raises several concerns:
Its effects on the local environment, agriculture, and health. Many residents of Hancock County are small, self-sufficient farmers.
A gap between local government and the people. The Bucksport Town Council unanimously approved the proposal, despite widespread opposition from residents and merchants.
Government-industry alliances. As a cogenerator, AES would supply Champion International - which has a large paper mill in Bucksport - with steam produced in the coal plant. Five of the seven planning board members work for Champion.
Individual Green Party members were outspoken at the planning board hearings. The party called on the Hancock County commissioners to place a referendum on the November ballot. The request was denied. The party has also called upon the state attorney general's office to restructure ballot-access laws to make it easier for new political parties to emerge.
And in case the planning board approves the power plant proposal, the party already has requested intervener status at hearings before the state Department of Environmental Protection. This would allow party members to ask questions of AES and submit rebuttals.
But Ms. Allen still sees the polls as the most effective tool. If the proposal is approved, Green Party members will be present at polling stations across the county, asking voters to sign a petition against the plant.
``We are building a coalition of like-minded people,'' Allen says. ``The last and best expression of democracy is in the polls.
Are the Greens in Hancock being heard?
``They're definitely making waves,'' says E. Michael Swazey, state representative for part of Hancock County.